Bread market is changing, so should wheat growers worry?

Farmer's Guardian -- Consumers are becoming more discerning as the choice of breads becomes more diverse, but should the erosion in demand be of concern to UK wheat growers? Dominic Kilburn reports.

Bread, as one of the oldest known recipes known to man, has been our staple diet for millennia. Today, in the UK, you can find more than 200 varieties in the shops – all can be categorised as white, brown or wholemeal.

As well as the country’s most popular standard ‘white sliced’ loaf, other breads available include malted wheats, milk breads, bran-enriched and mixed grain breads. They come sliced, unsliced, wrapped, unwrapped, part-baked and frozen. There are different shaped breads and continental and ethnic breads.

Bread first came to the attention of man approximately 12,000 years ago, yet it took 11,900 years for the white sliced loaf to arrive in the UK, in the 1930s, under the Wonder Bread brand, immediately revolutionising the sandwich making industry. It was considered such good news that the immortal phrase, ‘the best thing since sliced bread’, was coined.

Since then, sliced white bread sales have dominated the UK market and today it is still the consumers’ favourite accounting for 71 per cent of total bread consumption. Brown and wholemeal accounts for 22 per cent and other breads just 7 per cent.

Yet change in the bread market is taking place. According to recently released Defra research based on household food purchasing quantities between 2003 and 2006, headline figures show that consumption overall is down 5 per cent, including white by 24 per cent.

Conversely, brown and wholemeal bread use went up by 34.4 per cent and there were positive increases for ‘other breads’ and convenience cereal-based foods.

Gordon Polson, director for the Federation of Bakers (the organisation that represents the largest ‘plant’ bakers in the country, responsible for 80 per cent of production), says that with the market worth more than £3billion, there is still a massive role for bread to play in the healthy diet of the nation and the amount of flour required by millers for bread is remaining stable.

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